Literary Fiction

Owen Thomas

Brain to Book Blog Tour

Fast Fact


Bio

Owen Thomas is a life-long Alaskan with an abiding love of original fiction writing and storytelling whose ultimate purpose is always to reconnect the reader with humanity. Owen is a product of the Anchorage School District and a graduate of Duke University and Duke Law School. Over the years, while his responsible, wage-earning identity has been busy practicing law and running a law firm, Owen has written three novels:  Lying Under Comets: A Love Story of Passion, Murder, Snacks and Graffiti; The Lion Trees (Gold Medal Winner of the Global eBook Award for new adult fiction; a semi-finalist for the Kindle Book Awards, A winner of The Eric Hoffer Award for fiction, a semi-finalist for The Amazon Kindle Book Award; a Finalist for The Beverly Hills International Book Awards and The First Horizon Book Award and awarded Honorable Mentions at The London Book Festival, The Southern California Book Festival, The Great Northwest Book Festival, The Los Angeles Book Festival, The Great Southeast Book Festival, The Pacific Rim Book Festival, The Amsterdam Book Festival, and the New York Book Festival);  and a novel of interconnected short fiction, including six novellas and four short stories, entitled Signs of Passing winner of the 2014 Pacific Book Awards for Short Fiction. Even as you read this biographical blurb, a fourth and somewhat lighter novel, Henry & Biggs – a political vampire thriller about a literary agent and his pet Beagle (yes, you read that correctly) – is currently in the works and the first dozen chapters have been posted on the Owen Thomas Fiction Blog. Additional short fiction pieces are collected and reproduced in their entirety at Tiny Points of Life. Owen’s short story“Everything Stops” has been selected for publication in an anthology of short fiction published by Fiction Attic Press called “Modern Shorts”, available at Amazon. Owen’s short stories “Nothing To Worry About” and “Island Santa” have recently been released for purchase at Blurb.comand Amazon.com, respectively.

For the fifth consecutive year since he has been measuring his commercial success as an author, Owen has not won the Orange Prize for Fiction. Also, to great acclaim, he has not won the Man Booker Prize. Most recently, in April of 2015, Owen was not nominated for a Pulitzer.

Owen fervently believes our problem is not that life is too short, but that it tends to be much too narrow.  Also, whimsy in living is far too important to take seriously. But both of those propositions are the subject of on-going litigation. In the meantime, Owen is increasingly concerned that referring to oneself in the third-person is dangerously habit-forming.


BOOK BLURB

Meet the Johns, a family of five living in Columbus, Ohio in the year 2005. George W. Bush is well into his second term. The Iraq War is raging. Hurricane Katrina has landed. The Johns family is quietly, and then not so quietly, unraveling. In shades of Tom Wolfe’s A Man in Full, Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible and William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, the Johns family story, at turns dramatic and comic, tells the stories of Hollis, Susan, David and Tilly, each in the grips of tailor-made predicaments that threaten the identities to which they cling.

Hollis Johns, a retired Ohio banker, isolates himself in esoteric hobbies and a dangerous flirtation with a colleague’s daughter. Susan, his wife of forty years, risks everything for a second chance at who she might have become. David, their eldest, thrashes to stay afloat as his teaching career capsizes in a storm of accusations involving a missing student and the legacy of Christopher Columbus. And young Tilly, the black sheep, having traded literary promise for an improbable career as a Hollywood starlet, struggles to define herself amid salacious scandal, the demands of a powerful director, and the judgments of an uncompromising writer.

By turns comical and poignant, The Lion Trees depicts a family tumbling toward the discovery that sometimes you have to let go of your identity to find out who you are.



 EXCERPT

CHAPTER 1 – David

“Who is the most important historical figure you can name?” 

They stare at me, bright and twinkling with attention. Soaking me in. Assessing me. Measuring me against the others. And I am ready for them.

I sit on the edge of the desk and swing my leg, looking from face to face, letting them take stock before getting down to business. The first-day energy is palpable. Fresh, young, hungry minds.  I roll a stick of chalk from one palm to the other like dice. They blink at me.

"Don’t be shy, folks. No judgment here. Who do you think is the most important historical figure of all time?”

 Swing, swing, swing. Roll, roll, roll. Blink, blink.

 “Anybody. Anybody at all. Don’t all dive in at once.”

 Blink, blink.

 “How about you… over in the back there… what’s your name?” I look at my seating chart. “Ashley? What do you think, Ashley?”

 She is startled. I smile and nod. I am reassuring. I am encouraging. I am everything a teacher must be. A guide. A shepherd. I turn to the virgin green board behind me with a quickness and uncoiling energy that makes them jump. Beneath “Mr. Johns” I dramatically click chalk to slate, poised to write. A display of trusting servitude.  A humble scribe.

I wait. I wait.

“Madonna,” she says, finally, with a pop of gum for punctuation.

“M…” I write the first letter and turn. “Mother of Christ?” I ask, hopefully. I am an optimistic person.

Ashley screws up her face, rapidly cocooning her forefinger in a spiraling strand of purple glop. “Huh?”

So maybe I’m not an optimistic person. I think of myself as an optimistic person, which is really very different than actual optimism. The irony is, my self-concept as an optimistic person may be the only true claim I have to actual optimism. Every morning I come to consciousness with this belief – this understanding – of who I am today. I stretch and I yawn and I swing my feet from the bed to the floor and so it begins. I am an optimistic person. I feel optimistic. People are basically good. My life is a communion with well-intentioned souls. Everything is, more or less, as it should be. Yesterday did not happen. History is a fiction. Each day I am reborn.

Reborn, apparently, into a life plagued by some cruel, recurring amnesia.  Because yesterday did, in fact, happen. And so did the day before yesterday. And the day before that.

“You mean… Madonna… the, um…”

“Yeah. You know… Madonna.” Ashley says this with enough self-evident incredulity to level mountains. Her neon-frosted eyes roll over and down to a girl in the next row – Brittany Kline, according to my seating chart – who shrugs back at Ashley uncomprehendingly.

“Okay. Madonna.” The name goes on the board. I am unphased. I am young and hip and rolling with it. “Why Madonna?” I roll up my sleeves and cross my arms. I am in the trenches. On the front lines, making a difference.

“It’s not like I listen to her now or anything cuz she’s totally old and everything, but she’s like totally opened a lot of doors for women in this culture and around the world by empowering them to express their sexuality and taking a stand and everything like that.”

Bad start. That’s all. Luck of the draw. This will get better. I keep moving.

“Okay. Okay. Fair enough.” I arch the chalk through the air from left hand to right. “Let’s get some more names on the board. Give me someone important that goes way, way back. Let’s go waaaaaayyyyy back. Pull out all the stops. Whaddaya got? Mr. Onaya, go for it. Who’s your favorite historical figure?”

“George Washington.”

“Yes!” Bam! On the board! I’m rolling. “Who’s next? Ms. Kent. Lemme have it.”

“Abraham Lincoln.”

“Okay. Good. Good. Next. Alicia, who’s your favorite?”

“George Washington.”

“We already have him.”

“Yeah, but he’s my favorite.”

“Okay, good. But give me some other important historical figure I can put up here so we can talk about what makes them influential today.”

“But I like George Wa…”

“You don’t have to like the person, you just have to think they played an important role historically.”

“Abraham Lincoln.”

I underline the name that, like George Washington’s, is already on the board. The pressure between my molars is beginning to show in my temples. “Try again.”

“Indiana Jones.”

My theory is that all optimists are, of necessity, “historically challenged.” Optimism is a kind of dementia caused by a weakness of memory. A pleasant by-product of a serious mental deficiency. Optimists are not to be admired or emulated. They are to be pitied. Wiley Coyote was an optimist.


 INTERVIEW WITH OWEN THOMAS

Welcome to the Tour, Owen. Tell us a bit about your target audience.

My target audience consists of people who enjoy reading and who like pondering and talking about what they are reading with others. The Lion Trees is a very rewarding book club read because there is so much to interpret, process and discuss. My rough, very unscientific sense of the demographics of the readers who have enjoyed the book seems to skew older (it is not a book for young or impatient readers), educated (consistent with character-driven fiction generally), and female (given the focus on family, relationships, and some strong female characters struggling mightily to be themselves). There are plenty of exceptions to that general demographic sketch: many men have really enjoyed this book, as have those without graduate degrees. So, I go back to the single most important common denominator within the target audience: you have to consider reading an important pastime. It’s a big book – 1600 pages – and it takes a certain kind of reader to say, yes, I want to read all of those pages. If there is a phrase to help find that demographic, “modern classic” comes to mind as a possibility. Reviewers have drawn loose comparison to Updike’s Rabbit Run, to Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, to Dr. ZhivagoGone with the Wind, and The Thorn Birds. I am not nearly so vain or delusional as to put The Lion Trees on that shelf. Rather, my point is that The Lion Trees seems to have the “feel” of a modern classic – particularly given its length, breadth of story and thematic depth – and that might be the right way to define its target audience.

Tell us a little about yourself. (How did you get started writing? What do you do when you’re not writing?

My other life, the one that pays the bills, is spent as a lawyer. For the past twenty-five years I have practiced employment and commercial litigation in Anchorage, Alaska, where I manage a medium-sized law firm. Long before I ever went to law school (Duke Law 1990) I have been writing fiction. It is fair to say that creative writing started in grade-school English class and I just never stopped. My novel The Lion Trees took roughly ten years to write, much of it twenty and thirty minutes at a time, sitting in the front seat of my car in between meetings and court appearances. When I am not representing clients or making up characters I am photographing and otherwise enjoying the grandeur of Alaska and the paradise of Hawaii.

Is this your first book? How many books have you written prior (if any?) List other titles if applicable. I have had innumerable false starts; books that I leapt into with a great deal of enthusiasm and then for one reason or another abandoned before completion. Some turned out to be too ambitious while others were simply bad ideas and still others died on the vine because I was not aggressive enough in investing the time. Ten years ago I wrote a novel called Lying Under Comets: A Love Story of Passion, Murder, Snacks and Graffiti. I am still in the process of reworking that book, which has not yet been submitted for publication. I am publishing a book of connected short fiction, entitled Signs of Passing, which I expect to be out later this summer. I am also closing in on the completion of two other novels, one as yet untitled and one about a literary agent and his pet Beagle, entitled Henry & Biggs.

What genre do you enjoy writing the most and what is this book about? My preferred and most natural genre is literary fiction. Even within that already catchall genre, I think I am fairly versatile and can cover a lot of ground, from high drama to suspense to full-on humor. The Lion Trees is about a family living in 2005 Ohio that is, collectively and individually, coming unraveled by circumstances seemingly out of their control. Thematically, The Lion Trees, by turns dramatic and comedic, takes a hard look at the power of self-identity to control the course of our lives.

What inspired you to write this book? Hallucinogenic mushrooms. Kidding. In the most general sense, my purpose is to entertain. As a fiction writer, I want to provide readers with an enjoyable and meaningful diversion that they will carry around with them for a while. On top of that, however, my motivation in writing this particular book was to elucidate the psychological phenomenon at the core of the story and which propels each of the characters along their various arcs. In a nutshell, that psychological phenomenon is this: we tend to work very hard to shape our lives in a way that reaffirms what we think about ourselves. At the core of our motivation is an identity and we will nurture and protect that identity at all costs – in every relationship, in every accomplishment and failure, at every pivotal juncture – even if that identity is maladaptive and based on nothing more than a calcification of misunderstandings we adopted as children. The person who believes he is underserving, or always misunderstood, or wrongly accused, etc., will work very hard in his life to make sure that identity is affirmed again, and again. Even if makes him miserable. Even if it kills him.

How did you come up with the title of your book?The Lion Trees is about, among many other things, a Hollywood feature film called The Lion Tree. One of the main characters in the book is the star of that movie (if it ever gets made). The movie is an adaptation of a short story written by one of the other characters in the book. The name of the short story is The Lion Tree. That short story has at is center a parable about a man whose family is devoured by a pride of lions while out on a safari in Africa. So the title to this novel in part derives from the titles of these works of fiction that fit one inside the other like Russian nesting dolls. More broadly, however, The Lion Trees refers to the metaphor that animates all of the plots and characters in this book: the lion tree marks the place in our lives at which we adopt a self-conception, an identity, that threatens to devour us from the inside out.

Tell us a little bit about your cover art. Who designed it? Why did you go with that particular image/artwork? I worked with a consultant (Taughnee Stone at Launch the Book) to come up with an image that captured both the title and literary feel of the book. The Lion Trees, while very funny and contemporary in its style, also has a romantic, philosophical, modern-classic feel. We wanted the dominant image to be simple and iconic and for the cover to have a weathered, well-read look to it.

If you could cast your characters in the Hollywood adaptation of your book, who would play your characters? It is an interesting question, since one of the major storylines in The Lion Trees is about adapting a piece of literature to the Silver Screen and finding the right actors to play the various characters that inhabit the written work. The author of the fictional work on which the movie is to be based is a guy named Angus Mann. One of the stars of the movie declares that Angus bears a passing resemblance to Robert Forrester, so I suppose Angus would have to be played by Robert Forrester. As for the other characters, I will forego this opportunity to superimpose my own visual conception of the characters. I would prefer that the readers form their own conceptions of, and relationship with, the characters.

Just as your books inspire authors, what authors have inspired you to write? That is one of those questions that is fair to ask and, for me, nearly impossible to answer. I have been inspired by so many writers and books that to name one or a few does an almost unpardonable disservice to all of the others. So let me answer it this way. The Lion Trees as a literary creation was inspired by several different writers and books. The structure of the novel as a story told in a variety of different voices and tenses each handing off to another was inspired by Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. Some of the social-satirical elements of the book, as well as the hubristic aspects to Hollis Johns was at least partly inspired by Tom Wolfe’s A Man in Full and his brilliant character Charles Croker. Aspects of the arc of Tilly Johns, the sexual rebelliousness of her character and the relationship she has with her brother Ben owe something to William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. The nesting of a story within a story (a novel called The Lion Trees about a movie called The Lion Tree, based on a short story called The Lion Tree, which is written around a parable of The Lion Tree) had its first inspiration from Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin. The Johns family as a study of intimate, history-driven dysfunction was at least partly inspired by Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections. The short story by Angus Mann (a fictional character) and all of its circa 1960, stripped-down science fiction born of nuclear paranoia was inspired by the incomparable Ray Bradbury. The list goes on. There is no better fuel and inspiration for writers than good writing.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?  I am confronted with this question every time someone asks “So what do you do?” It’s a question people seem to ask me a lot when I travel. I am increasingly torn by this question. What do I do? A year ago, when my life as a fiction writer was still largely a secret, I would not hesitate to answer, “I’m a lawyer,” usually followed by some mildly informative qualifier like, “mostly employment litigation,” or, “I manage a medium-sized law firm in Anchorage, Alaska.” I wouldn’t deign to call myself a writer, even though I did write a lot of fiction. Even though I wrote all the time. Even though writing is the thing I most enjoy. Well. Not counting sex and coffee ice cream and a good bourbon and a long list of other indulgent diversions. The point is that introducing myself as a fiction writer was always a quickly stifled impulse. It felt somehow wrong – dishonest, vain, pretentious – like I was laying claim to something not rightfully mine. In that split second before thought becomes an actual sound slipping the larynx, the lawyer in me always managed to elbow his way to the opening of my mouth, right hand raised, and took the oath of occupation. “What do I do? Well, I’m a lawyer.”

But then, in one giant step, The Lion Trees moved from the novel living and growing in the privacy of my laptop to a published work of fiction. Two volumes. Sixteen hundred pages. Six pounds of words. Reviews have been embarrassingly good. In less than a year The Lion Trees has racked up a dozen international book awards. People are now actually purchasing the fiction I write (fiction-fiction, not legal-argument fiction). They want to know where they can find these books and if I will sign them. It has been an experience like no other; like watching some chartreuse peony open up outside your window. So when a fellow passenger asked me on a recent trip to Seattle, “so what do you do?” what do you think I told him? “I’m a lawyer,” I said. “Mostly employment litigation.” I was baffled by my own response. If I cannot lay claim to being a writer now, after all that has happened, then when? By the time we landed in Seattle, I was working on a minor epiphany. I realized that the lawyer in me has been counseling the writer in me to hold out for a better question. Questions usually imply answers, or at least types of answers. Every lawyer knows that. The writer in me has been unwilling to stoop to pick up the question, “so what do you do?” and try to make something respectable of it. I “do” all kinds of things. Writing is not something I “do.” It’s who I bloody am. I don’t remember when that identity first took root; it has been coming on quietly for a very long time. But whenever it may have started, it’s here now. I just haven’t yet gotten comfortable declaring that to others. The next time some guy in an aisle seat leans over and asks, “so who are you, deep down in the pit of our soul?” I’m swinging for the fences. I’m going to nail it. Writer. That’s me.

What does your writing process look like?  Given the other professional demands on my life, my “writing process” includes trying to find as many spare minutes laying around to string together and actually be creative. Sometimes that is quite difficult. I wrote a great deal of The Lion Trees sitting in my car in the middle of fast-food restaurant parking lots between meetings and court appearances. In an ideal week, I am able to devote Saturday and Sunday mornings to writing; maybe four to five hours each day. That writing time is important because it allows a deeper focus. On those days I try not to do anything before writing – I do not open the newspaper. I do not turn on the radio or television. I avoid conversation. The less of the everyday world that is in my head, the better I am able to immerse myself in the world of whatever I am writing. If I am able to write in the afternoons and evenings, I tend to spend that time editing simply because by then the real world has invaded my thoughts to such an extent that filling the blank page with fresh thoughts and new words is much more difficult. I tend to write and edit in layers as I work my way through a book (as opposed to writing one draft and then going back to the beginning and writing a new draft, etc.), so once I finish that last page, the book is really about 80-90% complete. Thereafter, I comb through the book several times, but the edits tend to be fairly minor.

Where do you write? There is a couch in my den at home that provides me with a comfortable, out of the way, space. Sometimes too comfortable. It is not uncommon for my ‘writing time’ to look an awful lot like ‘nap time.’ As I have already mentioned, I have written a frightening percentage of my books in the front seat of my car sitting in some parking lot outside any number of sandwich shops. Having a mobile writing studio has allowed me to steal some valuable writing time from the little spaces over lunch and between meetings and court hearings. Every so often I will go to the local library with a set of headphones and a laptop and camp out for a while. For editing and book marketing work, various coffee houses around Anchorage have sufficed. It is probably worth noting that, for me anyway, the process of “writing” involves more than the process of typing. Writing for me requires a lot of pondering and problem solving and, to that extent, I spend a lot of time “writing” as I walk around a lake near where I live, or drive nowhere in particular, or sit in some public place staring out into space or watching people do whatever it is they are doing. Put to good use, all of that time is integral to my creative process. Not put to good use, all of that time starts to look a lot like idle daydreaming. Or suspicious loitering.

Are you a plotter or do you write by the seat of your pants? I’m more of a seat-of-my-pants guy although it is more a combination of both and I don’t really have a formula. A concept or idea will take root in my head and I will carry it around with me, usually for a long time. Eventually, I start to get ideas onto a computer screen. Then, like drops of water on a window, those ideas start to coalesce into something larger. Before long, the book starts to develop its own voice; its own presence in the world. I tend not to prepare detailed outlines because I think there is a real danger of creative confinement. The book can change out from under me and I want to allow that process as much as possible. If written organically (a term I use to distinguish my idea of creative writing from a kind of reverse-engineered, plot-manufacturing process), the characters and the story will tell you where they want to go. For me, writing is a very dynamic process that moves forward in the interplay between the writer and the story. If the writer tries to set it all down in stone at the beginning of the process, he or she is missing out on what to my mind is the best part. There is an awful lot to learn about the story you are telling that you simply do not know in the beginning. Getting to know your characters and their situation is like getting to know anyone else. It takes time and a willingness to adapt to new information and jettison preconceived notions.

What writing advice do you have for other aspiring authors? My advice would be this: don’t worry about selling. Kick the commerce part of it out of the room for the writing phase and lock the door. Don’t write what the market expects you to write. Don’t write something you think will sell. Write with the sole purpose of doing justice to the creative vision in your head. Write something good. Write something authentic. Write something that moves you and you will move others. Have fun. Worry about selling later.

What can readers who enjoy your book do to help make it successful? Reviews! The single most helpful thing readers can do is to write a review of the book – it does not have to be long and detailed – and then post the review on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes&Noble, and/or LibraryThing. After that, sign on to the social media platform of your choice and recommend it to your friends.

What are you working on now? You mean aside from staying employed, married and solvent? I am on the verge of releasing a collection of short fiction called Signs of Passing. The book is comprised of four short stories and six novellas, all loosely connected to each other through characters and all organized around the theme of knowing when your life is no longer working and having the insight and courage to pick another direction. I am also about half-way through an as yet untitled novel set in south Texas, a second collection of short fiction entitled Tiny Points of Life, and an odd political-vampire-adventure-romp called Henry & Biggs, starring a New York literary agent and his pet Beagle. All of those projects (except the untitled novel) are represented on my author website (OwenThomasFiction.com).

What do you want your tombstone to say? “Edited for length without permission.”

If you had a supernatural power, what would it be? I host a fiction blog that has previously included a feature in which I pose thought-provoking but generally useless questions to followers on social media and then compile the most original answers. The first question in that series was this: if you had the power to fly or to be invisible which would you choose and why? One of my favorite responses was “If you’re invisible, you can fly anywhere you need to go. Pick the Lear jet of your choice and go. Who needs to fly as a superpower? Invisibility gets you both.” For anyone who is interested, the other answers are collected here. My own preference would be to have the power to pick up a book and instantly absorb the entirety of its contents. At my current rate of literary consumption, I’m never going to finish all the good books in the world. Sigh.

What book are you reading now? I never seem to be reading just one book. Currently, I am reading Orfeo by Richard Powers and The Luminaries by Eleanor Cotton. I just finished Lexicon by Max Barry and I have The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins cued up on


MAIN CHARACTER INTERVIEW (DAVID JOHNS):

So, David Johns, what seems to be the problem?

Problem? What makes you think there’s a problem?

I read the back cover of The Lion Trees.

Oh. Right. Well, in that case, the problem is that life as I know it is over.

That doesn’t sound good. What’s the issue? Work? Relationship? Money?

Yes. Yes. And yes. Also, I’m likely to be showering in prison for the rest of my natural life.

Wow. Not good.

 Right? Believe me, you don’t want the details.

 Sure I do. Let’s have it.

Okay. Where to start… I’m a high school history teacher living in Columbus, Ohio. I teach in the same school from which I graduated, so I haven’t really advanced very far in life. My father hates that I don’t have a business degree and that I never followed him into banking. Well, “hates” is probably the wrong word for what he feels because “hates” implies a certain active energy and my father basically gave up on me actually accomplishing anything in my life a long time ago. I live in a condo he paid for just to get me out of the house. He pays my mortgage most months, which really has not helped any.

Okay, not ideal, but not so terrible. What about your mother?

Mom spends most of her time taking care of my younger brother, Ben, who has Down Syndrome. When she’s not doing that, she obsesses over my sister’s movie career and keeps rigorous track of my father’s drinking. She thinks I try to avoid them on a regular basis.

Why would she think that?

Who knows? Probably because I try to avoid them on a regular basis. I went over to their house the other night to take Ben out to a movie. I snuck him out a back window rather than going in through the front door. That didn’t go over so well with Mom. She likes to worry. She worries that I’ve become a pothead.

Why is she worried about that?

I… I really have no idea.

So your sister is in the movie business?

Yeah, Tilly’s out there in Hollywood. Her career is really taking off. Just nominated for an award at Sundance. Mom is kind of star-struck with the whole thing. Dad hates it, of course.

Really? Why does he hate it?

 Well, partly because mom is so enthralled with Tilly’s success; they can never agree on anything where Tilly is concerned. A lot of hard feelings there. But I think it’s mostly because Tilly kind of… sort of… just a little bit likes to sleep with her directors and show up on the grocery store tabloid racks as a sex monster. Dad doesn’t like that much. Neither does mom. But all of my students love it. My sister’s sex life is the only thing they want to learn anything about. They sure don’t want to learn anything about history.

Look, David, you seem to be a smart, good-looking man with a good job and a family that still accepts your phone calls. If you don’t mind me saying, it sounds to me like your life has some of the same basic family, career and self-concept issues that most people have in some form or another. I’m not sure why you think your life is so bad.

You’re right. I know, I know. You’re right. I’m probably over-reacting to all of the little things. Like my girlfriend secretly sleeping with one of my colleagues. And the fact that the Columbus School district wants to fire me for teaching the truth about Christopher Columbus and George Bush. Oh, and that little, niggling problem of the Columbus Police Department trying to lock me up for possession of narcotics with intent to distribute and – not to be forgotten – for abducting and morally corrupting one of my female students. Silly to worry about that kind of thing, I know. All I need is a really good criminal defense lawyer and I’ll be fine. In fact, I already have a good criminal defense attorney. Glenda Laveau. Three hundred pounds of silken, jewel-toned courtroom aggression. Sadly, what I do not have is any money to pay Glenda’s fees. My current options seem to be trading sex for legal representation or asking my father for a whole lot of extra money. Did I mention my home has been destroyed and all of my pet fish are dead? I don’t know why I can’t just roll with these things. Like you say, everyone has these kinds of problems. Like the body of the teenage girl they just found in a dumpster, burned beyond recognition. How silly of me to just automatically conclude that it must be my missing student and that people carrying guns will think I had something to do with it. Right? Silly. Anyway, I’ve got go. Someone’s at the door.




Owen's Giveaways!

Amazon Giveaway (five copies of The Lion Trees, Part I: Unraveling and five copies of The Lion Trees, Part II: Awakening will be available for free from Amazon on a first come, first serve basis, from September 1 through September 7. Reviews are encouraged.).

Discounts – 50% off Paperback and Kindle Versions (for the month of September, reviews encouraged)

 See the Brain to Books Blog Tour Giveaways with Lu!

 A Brain to Books Production

Andrea McKenzie Raine

Brain to Book Blog Tour

Fast Facts:

  • Author: Andrea McKenzie Raine
  • Genre: Literary fiction
  • Book: Turnstiles
  • Official Website

Bio

Andrea McKenzie Raine was born in Smithers, BC and grew up in Victoria, BC where she still resides. She was enrolled in the Creative Writing program and earned a B.A. in English Literature at the University of Victoria in 2000, and completed a post-degree Public Relations certificate program. She has attended the successful Planet Earth Poetry reading series (formerly known as Mocambopo) in Victoria, BC since 1997, and participated in the Glenairley writing retreats led by Canadian poet and novelist Patrick Lane in Sooke, BC. In 2005, she published her first book of poetry, titled A Mother’s String, through Ekstasis Editions. Her poetry has also appeared in Mocambo Nights, Canadian Literature journal, Quills, Borderlines anthology (Ascent Aspirations magazine), Tempus anthology (Rubicon Press), Poems from Planet Earth (Leaf Press), Tongues of Fire anthology, and several Glenairley chapbooks edited by Patrick Lane (Leaf Press). She has also written book reviews and articles for local magazines, celebrating the work of her peers. Andrea lives with her husband and two young sons and, by day, is employed as a correspondence writer for the provincial government. Turnstiles is her debut novel published by Inkwater Press.


Blurb

Martin Sourdough is a homeless person who has chosen to turn his back on the corporate, material world; Willis Hancocks Jr. is a barrister, an alcoholic philanderer, and a misogynist; and Evelyn (aka Yvonne) is a prostitute. Turnstiles speaks to these social problems through the smaller scope of each character's individual trials. There is a struggle that exists between the need to serve one's own needs and the expectation to participate in the larger social scheme. Martin and Willis are both trying to fit into the world, but on their own terms. They are naïve, searching for an Eden-like state of being. Through a broader experience of personal fortune, misfortune, travel, and social interactions, they each learn to accept their path and take control of their own destinies.


Review

Turnstiles by Andrea McKenzie Raine is another book where there is no proper storyline, instead it follows the trails of three individual's lives, who are indeed psychologically flawed and those flaws of theirs is what constructs the narrative of this book.

I'd like to thank the author for giving me the opportunity to read and review her book.

This Canadian author's story-telling is so awesome that from the very beginning you feel yourself getting pulled into the character’s dark lives. First is Marty who is homeless and aimless simultaneously, next is Willis who is wealthy barrister and misogynistic and last is, Evelyn who is forced away into the flesh-trade. The way these three characters cross their paths is brilliant yet twisted.

The whole flow of the book is something very mesmerizing and from the very first instant, the characters are able to touch your mind and soul. Their pain, grief, darkness, danger, and emotions are so well written by the author, that you feel like you somehow know these characters personally. The prose is very articulate in nature and the author is quite a skilled one, certainly knows how to deliver the twists at the right moments thus making the plot more gripping. The author has a deep psychological grip on her characters, which are portrayed as multifaceted, flawed and sympathetic human beings, all achingly vulnerable, all wracked by fear, need and guilt.

Well you definitely read this book to understand deeply about the characters and as to how they change and enlighten us our minds with their mistakes and decisions. I can't say more about the characters since I would not stop myself from revealing certain twists. Although the book's pace is quite slow, and requires a lot of your attention to get into the core of the book, still it's highly recommended for all human beings who want to look at their lives more differently.- Original review available here 

https://www.goodreads.com/videos/81593-book-trailer-for-turnstiles


Excerpt

The room was filled with light when Evelyn awoke. She thought she had just rested her eyes for a few minutes, and remembered the weight of her eyelids forcing her back into dreams that seemed to entangle her. She awoke with a start to find no other presence in the room, no shadow leaking from the adjoining bathroom door, left ajar, no sound of his shoes or running water. The blinds flapped nervously as the summer air drifted into the room, like a lone bird’s wing that couldn’t take flight. She felt a mild panic.

“Marty?” she whispered in a barely audible voice. She was afraid to crack this silence, and to only have the silence returned. She gathered the sheets around her, slowly moved from the bed, and peered cautiously out of the blinds to see what the day's clouds might bring. She already knew it was a turning day. She vaguely hoped to see him standing on the sidewalk, waiting for her; to see him look up and acknowledge her face peering down, and wave frantically at her to join him, but she only saw an old woman pushing an overloaded shopping cart down the street. The shopping cart seemed to be filled with all of her worldly possessions. Evelyn saw herself in this woman. Only, she wasn’t sure what items would fill her own shopping cart. These solitary people who wandered the earth seemed to carry with them the material remnants of a previous life; tangible memories of who they used to be. Evelyn carried her memories, too, but she couldn’t put them in a shopping cart, except perhaps a few torn dresses. She would have to put herself in a shopping cart. And then there was the little girl she tried so desperately to escape from—there would have to be room for her.

The old woman suddenly stopped her cart and peered upwards at the hotel windows. She put her hand over her forehead as a visor to block out the sun. Evelyn wanted to move back from the window, but something made her continue looking down at the woman. She wondered if the woman saw her from this height. Could she have detected her own misery through the cheap window glass and distance that separated them? Perhaps this was her daily routine, to wander the streets with her life in a basket and peer up at the apartments and hotels, dreaming about entering such a building and having her own four walls, a bed and a mirror, even though she may never look at her own reflection, and having a set of blinds to block out the rest of the world. Evelyn’s finger slipped and she let the blind snap shut.

Soon after, Evelyn was standing on the same sidewalk, clutching a small bag she had hastily thrown together, after ten uninterrupted minutes of staring at her own image in the mirror, wondering why she had been abandoned and if it were really a bad thing. She had stood naked in the mirror, covering her breasts with her arms, hugging herself for comfort and self-realization. She wanted to smash the mirror, but she restrained herself because she did not want to break anything else. Maybe she had anticipated this. To wake up with only herself… she had not done so in years. She quietly gathered her clothes, and the small bundle of money Marty had left for her on the corner of the bed, and deftly left the room.

The day was cool, and the air was foreign on her skin; a small, teasing breeze that made her small, protective hairs stand up. She held her elbows, standing on the sidewalk. The man at the front desk had given her a kind, fatherly look when she checked out.

“You don’t need him, mademoiselle,” he said. Then nodded reassuringly, by way of saying that was all that needed to be said. She didn’t answer. She didn’t believe him, yet. She lifted one corner of her mouth, and went out. She didn’t call a taxi; instead, she began walking in the sunshine, with her heels dipping in the shallow cracks in the cement. She felt as though she was learning to walk; her legs were thin and unsteady, as she held her chest in. She was afraid everything might fall out, loose, onto the pavement; a cartoon vision of her ribs breaking and her vital organs, even her eyes, falling out, and her kneeling on the ground, mortified, and people walking by and watching. The thought made her hold her elbows and close her eyes tighter, to keep everything in. She had asked the man in the hotel where she was. A small French village outside Paris called Carrières-sur-Seine. She blinked. They had travelled nearly all the way back to their starting point. She thought she could hide here for a while, but she didn’t know how she could manage. Marty had left her money, but it felt greasy in her hand. She had not begun to forgive him, and the money was linked to a part of him she didn’t know or trust. She didn’t care about the money; she never had money before. She had also never been entirely alone before. She was trapped again. Screw him, she thought, not sure of which him she meant. Every man that thought they had her, or decided for her who she was or what was best. They didn’t have her, now. As she walked through the quaint, sunny village, trying to calm her thoughts and decide what to do, she noticed the old woman with the shopping cart coming towards her. She must have looped around again. This was her village, her home.

Everyone needed a landmark, a center. As the woman came closer, Evelyn noticed she was not old. She looked haggard, but no older than her mid-forties. Her hair boasted long grey streaks, partly tied back off her tired, weathered face. Her eyes were large and had seen too much. She didn’t see Evelyn, and was about to jostle past her with her life in her cart, until Evelyn spoke, “Excuse moi.” The woman stopped as though a stone wall had suddenly been thrown up in front of her cart wheels, and slowly looked up at the jittery, younger woman standing in the street. Evelyn reached into her bag and took out the money. She pulled a few large francs out of the wad in her hand, and gave the rest to the woman. “Find shelter,” she said. She knew the woman could find a new life, if she wished for it. It would take more than money, but it could be done. The woman grabbed the money in both hands, clearly not sure what to do next. She nodded at Evelyn, her face pale, her eyes moist and her lips twitching. “Pour quoi?” she finally said, in a voice that seemed to have not been used for years. Evelyn shrugged and smiled, “please find shelter,” she repeated, and began to walk away from the older woman with her heart pumping, feeling less helpless. The village was another respite; prettier, and not so remote. She hadn’t kept much of Marty’s money, but she had enough to make a decision. She headed toward the train station. She was going back to Paris. She wasn’t going to be afraid anymore.